The Artfinder Blog

Javier Peña, self-taught artist, talks to Artfinder about creating portraits of famous faces and his love of using colour in his paintings.

Madrid's own Javier Peña caught up with Artfinder to give us a peek into his world of painting. A self-taught painter, Javier proves that great things can come from watching a YouTube video or two, and boy are we happy that he did!

From watercolour paintings of dogs to Madrid cityscapes, Javier finds inspiration in a variety of subjects but is arguably best known for his portraits of famous individuals. Using characteristically vibrant colours inspired by the Austrian artist Voka, Javier brings to light his own interpretation of the likes of Queen Elizabeth II and Andy Warhol.

Intrigued to learn more about Javier's passionate life as a painter? Read further!

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on two new projects in parallel. One is a collection of eyes from famous people in which I intend to bring out the personality of each of them, as I perceive it, so each spectator can have their own sensations when looking at them individually or as a whole collection. The other will have a mix of portraiture and nature all in one.

Truth is, I love starting new projects. When the idea is born, I investigate it, compose in my head or on paper and then I go to buy white canvases. That’s my favourite part, that smell of a new white canvas. I always keep notes in my phone where I write down concepts, ideas or sketches that allow me to remember and combine ideas.

I wish the day had more than 24 hours!

'Anthony Hopkins Eye' by Javier Peña, $159/£127/€150

You’ve cited the artist ‘Voka’ as a major influence. What is it about his art that attracted you?

I’m a self-taught painter and all I have learned has been based on watching YouTube videos from artists painting, and of course my own trial and error process (I’ve spent a great amount of hours on that!). To me, Voka was a great discovery, since he mixes the techniques of historic painters with his own and spontaneous interpretations of colours, which helped me to paint the world as I see it.

Your artwork is very colourful and vibrant. How did you develop your relationship and love for colour?

Since I was a kid, I loved drawing. I was always drawing with a pencil or carbon. Approximately four years ago, I started being curious about colours and its influence on several works to be able to paint as I wanted, as with pencils something was missing.

That way I started researching colour, techniques, [the] chromatic circle and the entire world around it. My surprise was that I felt I had opened Pandora’s Box and since then I don’t want to do anything [other than] give colour to my ideas!

I like to think that people can get to know me through the intensity and light in my works. All thanks to colours, each day surprises me more and more with its complexity. The more I work the more I feel I know nothing.

Javier at work

A large proportion of your subjects are portraits of famous individuals. What attracts you to this subject?

In these years it has been my great obsession. Portraits of people that somehow had influenced our history, either in cinema, music, [or] painting. I have focused on that theme because many artists have performed their own version of these famous people and I felt the need to show my own. In portraits, I get obsessed with lights and shadows, one of each. That’s why [I use] the colour palette to execute it. In this process, I always realise when I finish that each [artwork] contains a part of me.

Among those individuals are the likes of Salvador Dalí and Frida Kahlo. Have these artists had any influence over your own work?

As you have been able to see, both are artists I truly admire ... both have got me closer to my love of art and the need to show my world through painting.

Frida Kahlo was a fighter and a strong woman that had a life full of pain and suffering both physically and emotionally. She managed to show that in her works, categorised as surrealist although, as she used to say, she didn’t paint dreams she painted her reality.

[Not only do I admire] Salvador Dalí's works which are just spectacular, he was one of the main representatives of Surrealism. I love the character that he created about himself, with a touch of craziness and humour and that asexual love towards Gala, fully surreal.

'Frida Kahlo Portrait' by Javier Peña, $750/£585/€700

What is the difference between painting portraits from an image as opposed to a live model? What do you prefer?

Wow, I love that you asked that question! Really, I have had few opportunities to paint from a live model. Usually I paint from a picture, but the times I’ve done it have been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in life.

That feeling of perpetuating moments that in reality last only seconds, it’s unique.

One of the greatest occasions I can remember is when I painted a wedding. I was tasked with the great mission of 'capturing the moment' in just a couple of hours. I focused on showing the happiness that everyone was spreading that day. Luckily, everyone loved the result.

How would you describe your experience selling online?

To me it has only been a great experience and I hope it to be like that for many years, not only because of the sale itself. The fact that I can get my works closer to people all around the world and getting positive comments about it is really enriching.

In this sense, I feel really grateful to Artfinder. Personally I believe it is, without seeming to be paid to say this, one of the best online stores for art that currently exists. You guys don’t only look after the sale, but also after everything that surrounds both artists and customers.

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

Well, the most exciting plan I have is to be able to paint every day! And I hope it [will] stay like that for a long time.

'Dalí & Gala Portraits' by Javier Peña, $2,916/£2,333/€2,750

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